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GEORGE CATLIN. nqc.\^2. 

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All men have, or ought to have, some peculiar ambition towards 
the attainment of which the principal energies of their lives are 
directed : mine, which developed itself some thirty years since, has 
been that of perpetuating the looks and customs of a numerous race 
of human beings fast passing to extinction. In this pursuit I 
have passed fourteen years of my life amongst the various tribes of 
Indians in North, South, and Central America, and of the nume- 
rous customs which I have recorded, there is nothing else so peculiar 
and surprising as the O-kee-pa of the Mandans, the subject of this 
book, — an annual ceremony, which I described in a former publica- 
tion, but which description, forming but an item in a large work, 
was necessarily too brief to give all the connecting links of a custom 
which derives its interest from being understood in all its phases. 

This publication, therefore, which is made for all classes of 
readers, as well as for gentlemen of science who study, not the 
proprieties of man, but Man, and which has not before appeared in 
all its parts, is made from a sense of duty, to perpetuate entire a 
human custom of extraordinary interest, peculiar to a single tribe 
in America, and which tribe, as will be seen, is now extinct; leaving 
in my hands alone chiefly, what has been preserved of their personal 
looks and peculiar modes. 

Geo- Catlin. 


" Neuwied, Prussia, December 20, 1866. 

" To Mr. George Catlin. 
" Dear Sir, 

" Your letter came safely to hand, and revived the quite forgotten 
recollections of mj stay amongst the Indian tribes of the Missouri, now 
thirty-three years past. 

" The Mandan tribe, which we both have known so well, and with whom 
I passed a whole- winter, was one of the first to be destroyed by a terrible 
disease, when all the distinguished chiefs, Mah-to-toh-pa, Char-a-ta, Numa- 
ka-kie, etc. etc., died ; and it is doubtful if a single man of them remained 
to record the history, customs, and religious ideas of his people. 

" Not having been, like yourself, an eye-witness of those remarkable 
starvations and tortures of the O-kee-pa, but having arrived later, and spent 
the whole of the winter with the Mandans, I received from all the distin- 
guished chiefs, and from Mr. Kipp (at that time director of Fort Clarke, at the 
Mandan village, and an excellent interpreter of the Mandan language), the 
most detailed and complete record and description of the O-kee-pa festival, 
where the young men suffered a great deal ; and I can attest your relation 
of it to be a correct one, after all that I heard and observed myself. 

" In my description of my voyage in North America (English edition) 
I gave a very detailed description of the O-kee-pa, as it was reported to me 
by all the chiefs and Mr. Kipp, and it is about the same that you told, — 
and nobody would doubt our veracity, I hope. 

" I know most of the American works published on the American Indians, 
and I possess many of them ; but it would be a labour too heavy for my 
age of eighty-five years, to recapitulate them all. 

" Schoolcraft is a writer who knows well the Indians of his own part of 
the country, but I do not know his last large work on that matter. If he 
should doubt what we have both told in our works, of the great Medicine 
festivities of the O-kee-pa, he would be wrong, certainly. 

"If my statement, as that of a witness, could be of use to you, I should 
be very pleased. 

"Your obedient 

"(Signed) Max, Prince of Neuwied." 




In a narrative of fourteen years' travels and residence amongst the 
native tribes of North and South America, entitled ' Life amongst 
the Indians ) ,' and published in London and in Paris, several years 
since, I gave an account of the tribe of Mandans, — their personal 
appearance, character, and habits ; and briefly alluded to the singular 
and unique custom which is now to be described, and was then 
omitted, as was alleged, for want of sufficient space for its insertion, — 
the "O-kee-pa," an annual religious ceremony, to the strict observ- 
ance of which those ignorant and superstitious people attributed not 
only their enjoyment in life, but their very existence ; for traditions, 
their only history, instructed them in the belief that the singular 
forms of this ceremony produced the buifalos for their supply of food 
and that the omission of this annual ceremony, with its sacrifices 
made to the waters, would bring upon them a repetition of the 
calamity which their traditions say once befell them, destroying the 
whole human race, excepting one man, who landed from his canoe 
on a high mountain in the West. 

This tradition, however, was not peculiar to the Mandan tribe, for 
amongst one hundred and twenty different tribes that I have visited in 



North and South and Central America, not a tribe exists that has not 
related to me distinct or vague traditions of such a calamity, in which 
one, or three, or eight persons were saved above the waters, on the top 
of a high mountain. Some of these, at the base of the Bocky Moun- 
tains and in the plains of Venezuela, and the Pampa del Sacramento 
in South America, make annual pilgrimages to the fancied summits 
where the antediluvian species were saved in canoes or otherwise, 
and, under the mysterious regulations of their medicine (mystery) 
men, tender their prayers and sacrifices to the Great Spirit, to en- 
sure their exemption from a similar catastrophe. 

Indian traditions are generally conflicting, and soon run into 
fable ; but how strong a proof is the unanimous tradition of the 
aboriginal races of a whole continent, of such an event ! — how strong 
a corroboration of the Mosaic account, — and what an unanswerable 
proof that anthropos Americanus is an antediluvian race ! And how 
just a claim does it lay, with the various modes and forms which 
these poor people practise in celebrating that event, to the inquiries 
and sympathies of the philanthropic and Christian (as well as to 
the scientific) world ! 

Some of those writers who have endeavoured to trace the aborigines 
of America to an Asiatic or Egyptian origin, have advanced these tra- 
ditions as evidence in support of their theories, which are, as yet, 
but unconfirmed hypotheses ; and as there is not yet known to exist 
(as I shall show, but not in this place), either in the American lan- 
guages, or in the Mexican or Aztec, or other monuments of these 
people, one single proof of such an immigration (though it could have 
been made), these traditions as yet are mine, and not theirs, — are 
American, — indigenous, and not exotic. If it were shown that inspired 
history of the Deluge and of the Creation restricted those events to 
one continent alone, then it might be that the American races came 
from the Eastern continent, bringing these traditions with them ; 
but until that is proved, the American traditions of the Deluge are 


no evidence whatever of an Eastern origin. If it were so, and the 
aborigines of America brought their traditions of the Deluge from 
the East, why did they not bring inspired history of the Creation ? 

Though there is not a tribe in America but what have some 
theory of man's creation, there is not one amongst them all that 
bears the slightest resemblance to the Mosaic account. How strange 
is this if these people came from the country where inspiration 
was prior to all history ! The Mandans believed they were created 
under the ground, and that a portion of their people reside there 
yet. The Choctaws assert that " they were created cr mo-fish, living 
alternately under the ground and above it, as they chose; and 
coming out at their little holes in the earth to get the warmth of 
the sun one sunny day, a portion of the tribe was driven away 
and could not return ; they built the Choctaw village, and the re- 
mainder of the tribe are still living under the ground." 

The Sioux relate with great minuteness their traditions of the 
creation. They say that " the Indians were all made from the red 
pipe-stone, which is exactly of their colour ; that the Great Spirit, 
at a subsequent period, called all the tribes together at the red pipe- 
stone quarry, and told them this, that the red stone was their flesh, 
and that they must use it for their pipes only." 

Other tribes were created under the water ; and at least one half 
of the tribes in America represent that man was first created under 
the ground, or in the rocky caverns of the mountains. Why this 
diversity of theories of the Creation, if these people brought their tra- 
dition of the Deluge from the land of inspiration ? 

This interesting subject, too intricate for full discussion in this 
work, will be further incidentally alluded to *in the course of the 
following relations. 

Eor the scientific, who look amongst these native people chiefly 
for shapes of their skulls and for analogies to foreign races, I believe 
there will be found enough in the following description of their 

B 2 


religious ceremonies to command their attention ; and for the purely 
philanthropic and religious world, whose motives are love and sym- 
pathy, there will be sufficient to excite their profoundest astonish- 
ment, and to touch their hearts with pity. 

In a relation so singular, and apparently incredible, as I am now 
to make, I hope the reader will be able to follow me, under the 
conviction that I am representing nothing in my descriptions or in 
my illustrations but what I saw, and that I had by my side, during 
the four days of these scenes, three civilized and educated men, 
who gave me their certificates that they witnessed with me all these 
scenes as I have represented them, and which certificates, with other 
evidences, will be produced in their proper places, as I proceed. 

During the summer of 1832 I made two visits to the tribe of 
Mandan Indians, all living in one village of earth-covered wigwams, 
on the west bank of the Missouri river, eighteen hundred miles above 
the town of St. Louis. 

Their numbers at that time were between two and three thousand, 
and they were living entirely according to their native modes, 
having had no other civilized people residing amongst them or in 
their vicinity, that we know of, than the few individuals conduct- 
ing the Missouri Fur Company's business with them, and living in a 
trading-house by the side of them. 

Two exploring parties had long before visited the Mandans, but 
without in any way affecting their manners. The first of these, in 
1738, under the lead of the Brothers Vereudryc, Frenchmen, who 
afterwards ascended the Missouri and Saskachewan, to the Rocky 
Mountains ; and the other, under Lewis and Clark, about sixty years 

The Mandans, in their personal appearance, as well as in their 
modes, had many peculiarities different from the other tribes 
around them. In stature they were about the ordinary size ; they 
were comfortably, and in many instances very beautifully clad with 

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dresses of skins. Both women and men wore leggings and moccasins 
made of skins, and neatly embroidered with dyed porcupine quills. 
Every man had his " tunique and manteau " of skins, which he wore 
or not as the temperature prompted ; and every woman wore a dress 
of deer or antelope skins, covering the arms to the elbows, and the 
person from the throat nearly to the feet. 

In complexion, colour of hair, and eyes, they generally bore a 
family resemblance to the rest of the American tribes, but there 
were exceptions, constituting perhaps one-fifth or one sixth-part of 
the tribe, whose complexions were nearly white, with hair of a 
silvery-grey from childhood to old age, their eyes light blue, their 
faces oval, devoid of the salient angles so strongly characterizing all 
the other American tribes, and owing, unquestionably, to the infusion 
of some foreign stock. 

Amongst the men, practised by a considerable portion of them, 
was a mode peculiar to the tribe, and exceedingly curious, — that of 
cultivating the hair to fall, spreading over their backs, to their 
haunches, and oftentimes as low as the calves of their legs ; divided into 
flattened masses of an inch or more in breadth, and filled at intervals 
of two or three inches with hardened glue and red or yellow ochre. 

I here present (Plate I.) three of my Mandan portraits in their 
ordinary costume, — a chief, a warrior, and a young woman, — lest 
the reader should form a wrong opinion of their usual appearance, 
from the bizarre effects of the figures disguised with clay and other 
pigments in the ceremony to be described in this work. 

The Mandans (Nu-mah-kd-kee, pheasants, as they called them- 
selves) have been known from the time of the first visits made to 
them to the day of their destruction, as one of the most friendly and 
hospitable tribes on the United States frontier ; and it had become a 
proverb in those regions, and much to their credit, as they claimed, 
" that no Mandan ever killed a white man." 
. I was received with great kindness by their chiefs and by the 


people, and afforded every facility for making my portraits and 
other designs and notes on their customs; and from Mr. J. Kipp, 
the conductor of the Fur Company's affairs at that post, and his 
interpreter, I was enabled to obtain the most complete interpreta- 
tion of chiefly all that I witnessed. 

I had heard, long before I reached their village, of their "annual 
religious ceremony," which the Mandans call " O-Jeee-pa" and from 
Mr. Kipp, who had resided several years with the people, a partial 
account of it; and from him the most pressing advice to remain 
until the ceremony commenced, as he believed it would be a subject 
of great interest to me. 

I resolved to await its approach, and in the meantime, while in- 
quiring of one of the chiefs whose portrait I was painting, when this 
ceremony was to begin, he replied that "it would commence as soon 
as the willow-leaves were full grown under the bank of the river." 
I asked him why the willow had anything to do with it, when he 
again replied, "The twig which the bird brought into thei^ Canoe 
was a willow bough, and had full-grown leaves on it." 

It will here be for the reader to appreciate the surprise with 
which I met such a remark from the lips of a wild man in the heart 
of an Indian country, and eighteen hundred miles from the nearest 
civilization ; and the eagerness with which I followed up my in- 
quiries on a subject so unexpected and so full of interest. 

I inquired of him what bird he alluded to, which he found diffi- 
culty in making me understand, and, taking me by the arm, he con- 
ducted me through the winding avenues of the village until he dis- 
covered a couple of mourning doves pecking in the side of one of the 
earth-covered wigwams, and pointing to them said, "There is the 
bird ; it is great medicine." It then occurred to me that on my 
arrival in their village Mr. Kipp had cautioned me against harming 
these birds, which were numerous in the village, and guarded and pro- 
tected with a superstitious veneration as great medicine (or mystery). 

«£y ^ F ' ■•> 



The reader may here very properly inquire, If the American 
traditions of the Deluge have not been brought from the Eastern 
Continent, how is it that the Mandans have the Mosaic account of 
the olive-branch and the dove ? This is easily explained ; for these 
terms, and " Big Canoe," used by the Mandans, form no part of the 
general traditions, being entirely unused by, and unknown to, the 
other tribes of the American Continent ; but have been introduced 
amongst the Mandans, like other customs that will be described, by 
some errant colony of Welsh, or other civilized people who have 
merged into the Mandan tribe, and, having witnessed the Mandan 
ceremonies, and heard their traditions of the Deluge, have described 
to those people the Mosaic account, and from which the Mandans 
have appropriated and introduced into their system the terms "wil- 
low bough" for olive-branch, and "Big Canoe" for the Ark, whilst 
all the other tribes which speak of a canoe use the word "canoe" 
only. And there are yet many tribes in the vicinity of the Rocky 
Mountains, and in the north of Mexico, which, without impairing in 
the least the great fact of the tradition, make no mention of a canoe 
whatever, but represent that the ancestor or ancestors of the present 
human race, by various miraculous modes, which they describe, 
gained the summit of a mountain above the reach of the waters in 
which the rest of mankind perished. 

In Plate II. I have given a bird's-eye view of a section of the 
Mandan village, which is necessary to enable the reader fully to 
understand the ceremonies to be described. 

As I have before said, these people all lived in one village, and 
their wigwams were covered with earth, — they were all of one form ; 
the frames or shells constructed of timbers, and covered with a 
thatching of willow-boughs, and over and on that, with a foot or two 
in thickness, of a concrete of tough clay and gravel, which became 
so hard as to admit the whole group of inmates, with their dogs, to 
recline upon their tops. These wigwams varied in size from thirty 



to sixty feet in diameter, were perfectly round, and often contained 
from twenty to thirty persons within. 

The village was well protected in front by a high and preci- 
pitous rocky bank of the river ; and, in the rear, by a stockade of 
timbers firmly set in the ground, with a ditch inside, not for water, 
but for the protection of the warriors who occupied it when firing 
their arrows between the pickets. 

In this view the " Medicine Lodge," as it is termed, and the "Big 
Canoe" (or symbol of the "Ark") are conspicuous, and their posi- 
tions should be borne in mind during the descriptions of the cere- 
monies that are to be given. 

The "Medicine Lodge" the largest in the village and seventy-five 
feet in diameter, with four images (sacrifices of different-coloured 
and costly cloths) suspended on poles above it, was considered by 
these people as a sort of temple, held as strictly sacred, being built 
and used solely for these four days' ceremonies, and closed during 
the rest of the year. 

In an open area in the centre of the village stands the Ark (or 
"Big Canoe"), around which a great proportion of their ceremonies 
were performed. This rude symbol, of eight or ten feet in height, 
was constructed of planks and hoops, having somewhat the appear- 
ance of a large hogshead standing on its end, and containing some 
mysterious things which none but the medicine men were allowed to 
examine. An evidence of the sacredness of this object was the fact 
that though it had stood, no doubt for many years, in the midst and 
very centre of the village population, there was not the slightest 
discoverable bruise or scratch upon it ! 

In the distance in this view, and outside of the picket, is seen 
a portion of their cemetery. Their dead, partially embalmed, are 
tightly wrapped in buffalo hides, softened with glue and water, and 
placed on slight scaffolds, above the reach of animals or human 
hands, each body having its separate scaffold. 


The O-Jcee-pa, though in many respects apparently so unlike it, 
was strictly a religious ceremony, it having been conducted in most of 
its parts with the solemnity of religious worship, with abstinence, 
with sacrifices, and with prayer, whilst there were three other dis- 
tinct and ostensible objects for which it was held. 

1st. As an annual celebration of the event of the "subsiding of 
the waters " of the Deluge, of which they had a distinct tradition, 
and which in their language they called " Mee-ne-ro-Jca-hd-sha" (the 
settling down of the waters). 

2nd. For the purpose of dancing what they called " Bel-lohk-na- 
pick (the bull-dance), to the strict performance of which they attri- 
buted the coming of buffalos to supply them with food during the 
ensuing year. 

3rd. For the purpose of conducting the young men who had 
arrived at the age of manhood during the past year, through an 
ordeal of privation and bodily torture, which, while it was supposed 
to harden their muscles and prepare them for extreme endurance, 
enabled their chiefs, who were spectators of the scene, to decide upon 
their comparative bodily strength, and ability to endure the priva- 
tions and sufferings that often fall to the lot of Indian warriors, 
and that they might decide who amongst the young men was the 
best able to lead a war-party in an extreme exigency. 

The season having arrived for the holding of these ceremonies, 
the leading medicine (mystery) man of the tribe presented himself 
on the top of a wigwam one morning before sunrise, and haranguing 
the people told them that "he discovered something very strange in 
the western horizon, and he believed that at the rising of the sun 
a great white man would enter the village from the west and open 
the Medicine Lodge." 

In a few moments the tops of the wigwams, and all other eleva- 
tions, were covered with men, women, and children on the look-out ; 
and at the moment the rays of the sun shed their first light over the 


prairies and back of the village, a simultaneous shout was raised, 
and in a few minutes all voices were united in yells and mournful 
cries, and with them the barking and howling of dogs ; all were in 
motion and apparent alarm, preparing their weapons and securing 
their horses, as if an enemy were rushing on them to take them by 

All eyes were at this time directed to the prairie, where, at the 
distance of a mile or so from the village, a solitary human figure was 
seen descending the prairie hills and approaching the village in a 
straight line, until he reached the picket, where a formidable array 
of shields and spears was ready to receive him. A large body of 
warriors was drawn up in battle-array, when their leader advanced 
and called out to the stranger to make his errand known, and to tell 
from whence he came. He replied that he had come from the high 
mountains in the west, where he resided, — that he had come for the 
purpose of opening the Medicine Lodge of the Mandans, and that he 
must have uninterrupted access to it, or certain destruction would 
be the fate of the whole tribe. 

The head chief and the council of chiefs, who were at that mo- 
ment assembled in the council-house, with their faces painted black, 
were sent for, and soon made their appearance in a body at the 
picket, and recognized the visitor as an old acquaintance, whom they 
addressed as " Nu-mohk-muck-a-nah" (the first or only man). All 
shook hands with him, and invited him within the picket. He then 
harangued them for a few minutes, reminding them that every 
human being on the surface of the earth had been destroyed by the 
water excepting himself, who had landed on a high mountain in the 
West, in his canoe, where he still resided, and from whence he had 
come to open the Medicine Lodge, that the. Mandans might celebrate 
the subsiding of the waters and make the proper sacrifices to the 
water, lest the same calamity should again happen to them. 

The next moment he was seen entering the village under the 


escort of the chiefs, when the cries and alarms of the villagers in- 
stantly ceased, and orders were given by the chiefs that the women 
and children should all be silent and retire within their wigwams, 
and their dogs all to be muzzled during the whole of that day, which 
belonged to the Great Spirit. 

In the midst of this startling and thrilling scene, which was so well 
acted out by men, women, and children, and (apparently) by their 
dogs, I shoidd scarcely have had the nerve to have been a close ob- 
server but for the announcement by the fur-trader, Mr. Kipp, with 
whom I was lodging, that this was the beginning of the "great 
ceremony," and that I ought not to lose a moment in witnessing its 
commencement, and of making sketches of all that transpired. 

"With this advice Mr. Kipp had accompanied me to the picket, 
where I had a fair view of the reception of this strange visitor from 
the "West ; in appearance a very aged man, whose body was naked, 
with the exception of a robe made of four white wolves' skins. His 
body and face and hair were entirely covered with white clay, and he 
closely resembled, at a little distance, a centenarian white man. In 
his left hand he extended, as he walked, a large pipe, which seemed 
to be borne as a very sacred thing. The procession moved to the 
Medicine Lodge, which this personage seemed to have the only means 
of opening. He opened it, and entered it alone, it having been (as 
I was assured) superstitiously closed during the past year, and never 
used since the last annual ceremony. 

The chiefs then retired to the Council-house, leaving this strange 
visitor sole tenant of this sacred edifice ; soon after which he placed 
himself at its door, and called out to the chiefs to furnish him "four 
men, — one from the North, one from the South, one from the East, 
and one from the West, whose hands and feet were clean and would 
not profane the sacred temple while labouring within it during that 

These four men were soon produced, and they were employed 


during the day in sweeping and cleaning every part of the temple, 
and strewing the floor, which was a concrete of gravel and clay, 
and ornamenting the sides of it, with willow boughs and aromatic 
herbs which they gathered in the prairies, and otherwise preparing 
it for the " Ceremonies, 1 '' to commence on the next morning. 

During the remainder of that day, while all the Mandans were 
shut up in their wigwams, and not allowed to go out, Nu-mohk- 
muck-a-nah (the first or only man) visited alone each wigwam, and, 
while crying in front of it, the owner appeared and asked, "Who's 
there?" and "What was wanting?" To this Nu-mokk-muck-a- 
nah replied by relating the destruction of all the human family 
by the Flood, excepting himself, who had been saved in his "Big 
Canoe," and now dwelt in the West; that he had come to open 
the Medicine Lodge, that the Mandans might make the necessary sacri- 
fices to the water, and for this purpose it was requisite that he 
should receive at the door of every Mandan's wigwam some edged 
tool to be given to the water as a sacrifice, as it was with such tools 
that the u Big Canoe'''' was built. 

He then demanded and received at the door of every Mandan 
wigwam, some edged or pointed tool or instrument made of iron or 
steel, which seemed to have been procured and held in readiness for 
the occasion ; with these he returned to the Medicine Lodge at even- 
in°- where he deposited them, and where they remained during the 
four days of the ceremony, and were, as will be seen, on the last day 
at sundown, in the presence of the chiefs and all the tribe, to be 
thrown into deep water from the top of the rocks, and thus made a 
sacrifice to the water. 

Nu-mohk-muck-a-nah rested alone in the Medicine Lodge during 
that night, and at sunrise the next morning, in front of the lodge, 
called out for all the young men who were candidates for the 
O-kee-pa graduation as warriors, to come forward, — the rest of the 
villagers still enclosed in their wigwams. 


In a few minutes about fifty young men, whom I learned were 
all of those of the tribe who had arrived at maturity during the last 
year, appeared in a beautiful group, their graceful limbs entirely 
denuded, but without exception covered with clay of different colours 
from head to foot, — some white, some red, some yellow, and others 
blue and green, each one carrying his shield of bull's hide on his left 
arm, and his bow in his left hand, and his medicine bag in the right. 

In this plight they followed Nu-mohk-muck-a-nah into the Medi- 
cine Lodge in " Indian file," and taking their positions around the 
sides of the lodge, each one hung his bow and quiver, shield and 
medicine-bag over him as he reclined upon the floor of the wigwam. 

Nu-mohk-muck-a-nah then called into the Medicine Lodge the 
principal medicine man of the tribe, whom he appointed O-kee-pa- 
ka-see-ka (Keeper or Conductor of the Ceremonies), by passing into 
his hand the large pipe which he had so carefully brought with 
him, "which had been saved in the big canoe with him," and on 
which it will appear the whole of these mysteries hung. 

Nu-mohk-muck-a-nah then took leave of him by shaking hands 
with him, and left the Medicine Lodge, saying that he would return to 
the West, where he lived, and be back again in just a year to re- 
open the Medicine Lodge. He then passed through the village, shak- 
ing hands with the chiefs, and in a few moments was seen disappear- 
ing over the hills from whence he came the day previous. 

~No more was seen of this extraordinary personage during the 
ceremonies, but more will be learned of him before this description 
is finished.* 

* Here the question again arises, If the Indian tradition of the Deluge was not 
of Mosaic origin, why was the "first or only man" represented by the Mandans 
as a white man ? and the answer is the same as that already given as to the 
"willow-bough" and the "big canoe." The same teachers have made these people 
believe that the first man was a white man, and they consequently so represent 
him, — a peculiarity of the Mandans, not practised or thought of in any other tribe 
of the American continent. 


Here is the proper place to relate the manner in which I gained 
admission into this sacred temple, and to give the credit that was due, 
to the man who kindly gave me permission to witness what was pro- 
bably never seen before by a white man, the secret and sacred trans- 
actions of the interior of the Mandan Medicine Lodge, so sacred that 
a double door, with an intervening passage and an armed sentinel at 
each end, positively denying all access excejDt by permission of the 
Conductor of the Ceremonies, and strictly guarding it against the 
approach or gaze of women, who, I was told, had never been allowed 
to catch the slightest glance of its interior. 

This interior had also been too sacred a place for the admission of 
Mr. Kipp, the fur-trader, who had lived in the village eight or ten 
years ; but luckily for me, I had completed a portrait the day before, 
of the renowned doctor or " mystery man" to whom the superin- 
tendence of the ceremonies had just been committed, and whose 
vanity had been so much excited by the painting that he had 
mounted on to a wigwam with it, holding it up by the corners and 
haranguing the villagers, claiming that "he must be the greatest 
man among the Mandans, because I had painted his portrait before I 
had painted the great chief; and that I was the greatest ' medicine'' 
of the whites, and a great chief, because I could make so perfect a 
duplicate of him that it set all the women and children laughing !" 

This man, then, in charge of the Medicine Lodge, seeing me with 
one of my men and Mr. Kipp, the fur trader, standing in front of 
the door, came out, and passing his arm through mine, politely led 
me into the lodge, and allowing my hired man and Mr. Kipp, with 
one of the clerks of his establishment, to follow. We took our seats, 
and were allowed to resume them on the three following days, oc- 
cupying them most of the time from sunrise to sundown ; and there- 
fore the following description of those scenes, and the paintings 
which I then made of them, and to all of which Mr. Kipp and the 
other two men attached their certificates, which are here given. 

r < i UL,;.«» l| ! i-. r .. >n. ...V- ' N-l-V l i . ■■ ■ ■, 

^ v /. " ft 








" We hereby certify tliafc we witnessed, with Mr. Catlin, in the Mandan 
village, the ceremonies represented in the four paintings to which this cer- 
tificate refers, and that he has therein represented those scenes as we saw 
them enacted, without addition or exaggeration. 

" J. Kipp, Agent of Missouri Fur Company. 

"J. Crawford, Clerk. 

"Abraham Bogard. 

"Mandan Village, 28th July, 1832." 

The Conductor or Master of the Ceremonies then took his posi- 
tion, reclining on the ground near the fire, in the centre of the 
lodge, with the medicine-pipe in his hand, and commenced crying, 
and continued to cry to the Great Spirit, while he guarded the young 
candidates who were reclining around the sides of the lodge, and for 
four days and four nights were not allowed to eat, drink, or to sleep. 
(This interior, which they called " Mee-ne-ro-Jca-Hd-slia," — the waters 
settle down, — see in Plate III.) 

By such denial great lassitude, and even emaciation, was pro- 
duced, preparing the young men for the tortures which they after- 
wards went through. 

The Medicine Lodge, in which they were thus resting during the 
four days, and which I have said was seventy -five feet in diameter, 
presented the most strange and picturesque appearance. Its sides 
were curiously decorated with willow-boughs and aromatic herbs, 
and its floor (covered also with willow-boughs) with a curious 
arrangement of buffalo and human skulls. 

There were also four articles of veneration and importance lying 
on the ground, which were sacks, containing each some three or 
four gallons of water. These seemed to be objects of great super- 
stitious regard, and had been made with much labour and ingenuity, 
being constructed of the skins of the buffalo's neck, and sewed 
together in the forms of large tortoises lying on their backs, each 
having a sort of tail made of raven's quills, and a stick like a drum- 


stick lying on it, with which, as will be seen in a subsequent part of 
the ceremony, the musicians beat upon the sacks as instruments of 
music for their strange dances. 

By the sides of these sacks, which they called Eeh-tee-Jca (drums), 
there were two other articles of equal importance, which they called 
Eeh-na-de (rattles), made of dried undressed skius, shaped into the 
form of gourd-shells, which they also used, as will be seen, as another 
part of the music for their dances. 

The sacks of water had the appearance of great antiquity, and 
the Mandans pretended that the water had been contained in them 
ever since the Deluge. At what time it had been originally put 
in, or when replenished, I consequently could not learn. I made 
several efforts to purchase one of these tortoise drums, so elaborately 
and curiously were they embroidered and ornamented, offering them 
goods at the Eur Company's trading-house to the value of one hun- 
dred dollars, but they said they were medicine (mystery) things, and 
therefore could not be sold at any price. 

Such was the appearance of the interior of the Medicine Lodge 
during the three first (and part of the fourth) days. During the 
three first days, while things remained thus inside of the Medicine 
Lodge, there were many curious and grotesque amusements and 
ceremonies transpiring outside and around the "Big Canoe." 

The principal of these, which they called BeUolik-na-piclc (the 
bull dance), to the strict observance of which they attributed the 
coming of buffaloes to supply them with food, was one of an exceed- 
ingly grotesque and amusing character, and was danced four times 
on the first day, eight times on the second day, twelve times on the 
third day, and sixteen times on the fourth day, and always around 
the " Big Canoe," of which I have already spoken. (See the "Bull 
Dance," Plate IV.) 

The chief actors in these strange scenes were eight men, with the 
entire skins of buffaloes thrown over them, enabling them closely 

Photo-lith Simonau 9c Toovev 


to imitate the appearance and motions of those animals, as the bodies 
of the dancers were kept in a horizontal position, the horns and 
tails of the animals remaining on the skins, and the skins of the 
animals' heads served as masks, through the eyes of which the 
dancers were looking. 

The eight men were all naked and painted exactly alike, and in 
the most extraordinary manner ; their bodies, limbs, and faces being 
everywhere covered with black, red, or white paint. Each joint was 
marked with two white rings, one within the other, .even to the 
joints in the under jaw, the fingers and the toes ; and the abdomens 
were painted to represent the face of an infant, the navel represent- 
ing its mouth. (See " A Buffalo Bull," Plate V.*) 

Each one of these characters also had a lock of buffalo's hair tied 
around the ankles, in his right hand a rattle (she-shee-qnoin), and 
a slender staff six feet in length in the other ; and carried on his 
back, above the buffalo skin, a bundle of willow-boughs, of the or- 
dinary size of a bundle of wheat. (See " A Buffalo Bull " dancing, 
Plate VI.) 

These eight men representing eight buffalo bulls, being divided 
into four pairs, took their positions on the four sides of the Ark, 
or "Big Canoe" (as seen in the general view, Plate IV.), repre- 
senting thereby the four cardinal points ; and between each couple 
of these, with his back turned to the " Big Canoe," was another 
figure engaged in the same dance, keeping step with the eight 
buffalo bulls, with a staff in one hand and a rattle in the other : and 
being four in number, answered again to the four cardinal points. 

The bodies of these four men were also entirely naked, with the 
exception of beautiful kilts of eagles' quills and ermine, and head- 
dresses made of the same materials. 

* "Whilst the handsome warrior was standing for the sketch here given, he told 
me that it took eight men an entire day to paint the bodies and limbs of the eight 
buffaloes, no part of the painting being done by their own hands. 



Two of these figures were painted jet black with charcoal and 
grease, whom they called the night, and the nnmerons white spots 
dotted over their bodies and limbs they called stars. (See one of 
these, Plate YIL) 

The other two, who were painted from head to foot as red as 
vermilion could make them, with white stripes up and down over 
their bodies and limbs, were called the morning rays (symbols of day). 
(See one of them, Plate VII.) 

These twelve were the only figures actually engaged in the Bull 
dance, which was each time repeated in the same manner without 
any apparent variation. There were, however, a great number of 
characters, many of them representing various animals of the coun- 
try, engaged in giving the whole effect to this strange scene, and all 
of which are worthy of a few remarks. 

The bull dance was conducted by the old master of ceremonies 
( O-Jcee-pa Ka-see-lca) carrying his medicine pipe ; his body entirely 
naked, and covered, as well as his hair, with yellow clay. 

For each time that the bull dance was repeated, this man came 
out of the Medicine Lodge with the medicine pipe in his hands, bring- 
ing with him four old men carrying the tortoise drums, their bodies 
painted red, and head-dresses of eagles' quills, and with them another 
old man with the two she-shee-quoins (rattles). These took their 
seats by the side of the "Big Canoe," and commenced drumming 
and rattling and singing, whilst the conductor of the ceremonies, 
with his medicine pipe in his hands, was leaning against the " Big 
Canoe," and crying in his full voice to the Great Spirit, as seen in 
the general view, Plate IV. Squatted on the ground, on the oppo- 
site side of the " Big Canoe," were two men with skins of grizzly bears 
thrown over them, using the skins as masks covering their faces. 
Their bodies were naked, and painted with yellow clay. 

These characters, whom they called grizzly bears, were continually 
growling and threatening to devour everything before them, and 

[ith Simonau 8: Toove 



interfering with the forms of the ceremony. To appease them and 
keep them quiet, the women were continually bringing and placing 
before them dishes of meat, which were as often snatched away and 
carried to the prairies by two men called bald eagles, whose bodies 
and limbs were painted black, whilst their heads and feet and hands 
were whitened with clay. These were again chased upon the 
prairies by a numerous group of small boys, whose bodies and limbs 
were painted yellow, and their heads white, wearing tails of white 
deer's hair, and whom they called antelopes. 

Besides these there were two men representing sivans, their 
bodies naked and painted white, and their noses and feet were 
painted black. 

There were two men called rattlesnakes, their bodies naked and 
curiously painted, resembling that reptile ; each holding a rattle in 
one hand and a bunch of wild sage in the other. (See "A Eattle- 
snake," Plate VIII.) There were two beavers, represented by two 
men entirely covered with dresses made of buffalo skins, except 
their heads, and wearing beavers' tails attached to their belts. (See 
" A Beaver," Plate YIII.) 

There were two men representing vultures, their bodies naked and 
painted brown, their heads and shoulders painted blue, and their 
noses red. 

Two men represented tvolves, their bodies naked, wearing wolf- 
skins. These pursued the antelopes, and whenever they overtook 
one of them on the prairie one or both of the grizzly bears came up 
and pretended to devour it, in revenge for the antelopes having 
devoured the meat given to the grizzly bears by the women. 

All these characters closely imitated the habits of the animals 
they represented, and they all had some peculiar and appropriate 
songs, which they constantly chanted and sang during the dances, 
without even themselves (probably) knowing the meaning of them, 
they being strictly medicine songs, which are kept profound secrets 

c 2 


from those of their own tribe, except those who have been regularly 
initiated into their medicines (mysteries) at an early age, and at an 
exorbitant price ; and I therefore failed to get a translation of them. 

At the close of each of these bull dances, these representatives of 
animals and birds all set up the howl and growl peculiar to their 
species, in a deafening chorus ; some dancing, some jumping, and 
others (apparently) flying ; the heavers clapping with their tails, 
the rattlesnakes shaking their rattles, the bears striking with their 
paws, the wolves howling, and the buffaloes rolling in the sand or 
rearing upon their hind feet ; and dancing off together to an adjoin- 
ing lodge, where they remained in a curious and picturesque group 
until the master of ceremonies came again out of the Medicine Lodge, 
and leaning as before against the " Big Canoe," cried out for all the 
dancers, musicians, and the group of animals and birds to gather 
again around him. 

This lodge, which was also strictly a Medicine Lodge during the 
occasion, and used for painting and arranging all the characters, and 
not allowed to be entered during the four days, except by the persons 
taking part in the ceremonies, was shown to me by the conductor of 
the ceremonies, who sent a. medicine man with me to its interior 
whilst the scene of painting and ornamenting their bodies for the 
bull dance was taking place ; and none but the most vivid imagination 
could ever conceive anything so peculiar, so wild, and so curious in 
effect as this strange spectacle then presented to my view. 

No man painted himself, but, standing or lying naked, submitted 
like a statue to the operations of other hands, who were appointed 
for the purpose. Each painter seemed to have his special department 
or peculiar figure, and each appeared to be working with great care 
and with ambition for the applause of the public when he turned out 
his figure. 

It may be thought easy to imagine such a group of naked figures, 
and the effect that the rude painting on their bodies would have ; but 


I am ready to declare that the most creative imagination cannot 
appreciate the singular beauty of these graceful figures thus decorated 
with various colours, reclining in groups, or set in rapid motion ; it 
was one of those few scenes that must be witnessed to be fully 

The first ordeal they all went through in this sanctuary was that 
of Tah-ke-tvay ka-ra-ka (the hiding man), the name given to an 
aged man, who was supplied with small thongs of deer's sinew, for 
the purpose of obscuring the glans secret, which was uniformly done 
by this operator, with all the above-named figures, by drawing the 
prepuce over in front of the glans, and tying it secure with the sinew, 
and then covering the private parts with clay, which he took from a 
wooden bowl, and, with his hand, plastered unsparingly over. 

Of men performing their respective parts in the bull dance, 
representing the various animals, birds, and reptiles of the country, 
there were about forty, and forty boys representing antelopes, — 
making a group in all of eighty figures, entirely naked, and painted 
from head to foot in the most fantastic shapes, and of all colours, as 
has been described ; and the fifty young men resting in the Medicine 
Lodge, and waiting for the infliction of their tortures, were also 
naked and entirely covered with clay of various colours (as has been 
described), some red, some yellow, and others blue and green ; so 
that of (probably) one hundred and thirty persons engaged in these 
picturesque scenes, not one single inch of the natural colour of their 
bodies, their limbs, or their hair could be seen ! 

During each and every one of these bull dances, the four old men 
who were beating on the sacks of water, were chanting forth their 
supplications to the Great Spirit for the continuation of his favours, 
in sending them buffaloes to supply them with food for the ensuing 
year. They were also exciting the courage and fortitude of the 
young men inside of the Medicine Lodge, who were listening to their 
prayers, by telling them that " the Great Spirit had opened his ears 


in their behalf ; that the very atmosphere out-of-doors was full of 
peace and happiness for them when they got through; that the 
women and children could hold the mouths and paws of the grizzly 
bears ; that they had invoked from day to day the Evil Spirit ; that 
they were still challenging him to come, and yet he had not dared to 
make his appearance." 

But, in the midst of the last dance on the fourth day, a sudden 
alarm throughout the group announced the arrival of a strange 
character from the West. Women were crying, dogs were howling, 
and all eyes were turned to the prairie, where, a mile or so in dis- 
tance, was seen an individual man making his approach towards the 
village ; his colour was black, and he was darting about in different 
directions, and in a zigzag course approached and entered the village, 
amidst the greatest (apparent) imaginable fear and consternation of 
the women and children. 

This strange and frightful character, whom they called O-Jee- 
liee-de (the owl or Evil Spirit), darted through the crowd where the 
buffalo dance was proceeding (as seen in Plate IV.), alarming all 
he came in contact with. His body was painted jet black with 
pulverized charcoal and grease, with rings of white clay over his 
limbs and body. Indentations of white, like huge teeth, surrounded 
his mouth, and white rings surrounded his eyes. In his two hands 
he carried a sort of wand — a slender rod of eight feet in length, with 
a red ball at the end of it, which he slid about upon the ground as 
he ran. (See " O-ke-ke'e-de," Plate IX.) 

On entering the crowd where the buffalo dance was going on, he 
directed his steps towards the groups of women, who retreated in the 
greatest alarm, tumbling over each other and screaming for help as 
he advanced upon them. At this moment of increased alarm the 
screams of the women had brought by his side O-Jcee-pa-M-see-ka 
(the conductor of the ceremonies) with his medicine pipe, for their 
protection. This man had left tha "Big Canoe," against which he 


> oo v ^ , 
L oooO 



Pkotc ■',■' 


was leaning and crying during the dance, and now thrust his medicine 
pipe before this hideous monster, and, looking him full in the eyes, 
held him motionless under its charm, until the women and children 
had withdrawn from his reach. 

The awkwardness of the position of this blackened demon, and 
the laughable appearance of the two, frowning each other in the face, 
while the women and children and the whole crowd were laughing 
at them, were amusing beyond the power of description. 

After a round of hisses and groans from the crowd, and the 
women had retired to a safe distance, the medicine jDipe was gradually 
withdrawn, and this vulgar monster, whose wand was slowly lower- 
ing to the ground, gained power of locomotion again. 

The conductor of the ceremonies returned to the " Big Canoe," 
and resumed his former position and crying, as the buffalo dance 
was still proceeding, without interruption. 

The Evil Spirit in the meantime had wandered to another part of 
the village, where the screams of the women were again heard, and 
the conductor of the ceremonies again ran with the medicine pipe in 
his hands to their rescue, and arriving just in time, and holding this 
monster in check as before, enabled them again to escape. 

In several attempts of this kind the Evil Spirit was thus defeated, 
after which he came wandering back amongst the dancers, apparently 
much fatigued and disappointed ; and the women gradually advancing 
and gathering around him, evidently less apprehensive of danger 
than a few moments before. 

In this distressing dilemma he was approached by an old matron, 
who came up slily behind him with both hands Ml of yellow dirt, 
which (by reaching around him) she suddenly dashed in his face, 
covering him from head to foot and changing his colour, as the dirt 
adhered to the undried bears'-grease on his skin. As he turned 
around he received another handful, and another, from different 
quarters ; and at length another snatched his wand from his hands, 


and broke it across her knee * others grasped the broken parts, and, 
snapping them into small bits, threw them into his face. His power 
was thns gone, and his colour changed : he began then to cry, and, 
bolting through the crowd, he made his way to the prairies, where 
he fell into the hands of a fresh swarm of women and girls (no doubt 
assembled there for the purpose) outside of the picket, who hailed 
him with screams and hisses and terms of reproach, whilst they 
were escorting him for a considerable distance over the prairie, and 
beating him with sticks and dirt. 

He was at length seen escaping from this group of women, who 
were returning to the village, whilst he was disappearing over the 
plains from whence he had made his first appearance. 

The crowd of women entered the village, and the area where the 
ceremony was transpiring, in triumph, and the fortunate one who 
had deprived him of his power was escorted by two matrons on each 
side. She was then lifted by her four female attendants on to the 
front of the Medicine Lodge, directly over its door, where she stood 
and harangued the multitude for some time ; claiming that " she 
held the power of creation, and also the power of life and death over 
them ; that she was the father of all the buffaloes, and that she could 
make them come or stay away, as she pleased." 

She then ordered the bull dance to be stopped — the four musicians 
to carry the four tortoise-drums into the Medicine Lodge. The assist- 
ant dancers, and all the other characters taking parts, were ordered 
into the dressing and painting lodge. The buffalo and human skulls 
on the floor of the Medicine Lodge (as seen in Plate III.) she ordered 
to be hung on the four posts (as seen in Plate X.). She invited 
the chiefs to enter the Medicine Lodge, and (being seated) to witness 
the voluntary tortures of the young men, now to commence. She 
ordered the conductor of the ceremonies to sit by the fire and smoke 
the medicine pipe, and the operators to go in with their knife and 
splints, and to commence the tortures. 


She then called out for and demanded the handsomest woman's 
dress in the Mandan Tillage, which was due to her who had disarmed 
O-ke-hee-de and had the power of making all the buffaloes which the 
Mandans would require during the coming year. Her demand for 
this beautiful dress was peremptory, and she must have it to lead the 
dance in the Feast of the Buffaloes, to be given that night. 

The beautiful dress was then presented to her by the conductor 
of the ceremonies, who said to her, " Young woman, you have gained 
great fame this day ; and the honour of leading the dance in the 
Feast of the Buffaloes, to be given this night, belongs to you." 

Thus ended the bull dance (bel-lohk-nd-pick) and other amuse- 
ments at midday on the fourth day of the O-kee-pa, preparatory to 
the scenes of torture to take place in the Medicine Lodge ; aad the 
pleasing moral from these strange (and in some respects disgusting) 
modes, at once suggests itself, that in the midst of their religious 
ceremony the Evil Spirit had made his entree for the purpose of 
doing mischief, and, having been defeated in all his designs by the 
magic power of the medicine pipe, on which all those ceremonies 
hung, he had been disarmed and driven out of the village in disgrace 
by the very part of the community he came to impose upon. 

The bull dance and other grotesque scenes being finished outside 
of the Medicine Lodge, the torturing scene (or pohk-hong as they called 
it) commenced within, in the following manner. (See Plate X.) 

The young men reclining around the sides of the Medicine Lodge 
(before shown in Plate III.), who had now reached the middle 
of the fourth day without eating, drinking, or sleeping, and conse- 
quently weakened and emaciated, commenced to submit to the 
operation of the knife and other instruments of torture. 

Two men, who were to inflict the tortures, had taken their posi- 
tions near the middle of the lodge ; one, with a large knife with a 
sharp point and two edges, which were hacked with another knife 
in order to produce as much pain as possible, was ready to make the 



incisions through the flesh, and the other, prepared with a handful of 
splints of the size of a man's finger, and sharpened at both ends, to 
be passed through the wounds as soon as the knife was withdrawn. 

The bodies of these two men, who were probably medicine men, 
were painted red, with their hands and feet black ; and the one who 
made the incisions with the knife wore a mask, that the young men 
should never know who gave them their wounds ; and on their 
bodies and limbs they had conspicuously marked with paint the scars 
which they bore, as evidence that they had passed through the same 

To these two men one of the emaciated candidates at a time 
crawled up, and submitted to the knife (as seen in Plate X.), 
which was passed under and through the integuments and flesh taken 
up between the thumb and forefinger of the operator, on each arm, 
above and below the elbow, over the brachialis externus and the 
extensor radialis, and on each leg above and below the knee, over 
the vastus externus and the peroneus ; and also on each breast and each 

During this painful operation, most of these young men, as they 
took their position to be operated upon, observing me taking notes, 
beckoned me to look them in the face, and sat, without the apparent 
change of a muscle, smiling at me whilst the knife was passing 
through their flesh, the ripping sound of which, and the trickling of 
blood over their clay-covered bodies and limbs, filled my eyes with 
irresistible tears. 

When these incisions were all made, and the splints passed 
through, a cord of raw hide was lowered down through the top of 
the wigwam, and fastened to the splints on the breasts or shoulders, 
by which the young man was to be raised up and suspended, by men 
placed on the top of the lodge for the purpose. 

These cords having been attached to the splints on the breast or 
the shoulders, each one had his shield hung to some one of the splints : 

.' h Sim snau 3 


his medicine bag was held in his left hand, and a dried buffalo skull 
was attached to the splint on each lower leg and each lower arm, that 
its weight might prevent him from struggling; when, at a signal, 
by striking the cord, the men on top of the lodge commenced to draw 
him up. He was thus raised some three or four feet above the ground 
until the buffalo heads and other articles attached to the woimds 
swung clear, when another man, his body red and his hands and feet 
black, stepped up, and, with a small pole, began to turn him around. 

The turning was slow at first, and gradually increased until 
fainting ensued, when it ceased. In each case these young men 
submitted to the knife, to the insertion of the splints, and even to 
being hung and lifted up, without a perceptible murmur or a groan ; 
but when the turning commenced, they began crying in the most 
heartrending tones to the Great Spirit, imploring him to enable them 
to bear and survive the painful ordeal they were entering on. This 
piteous prayer, the sounds of which no imagination can ever reach 
and of which I could get no translation, seemed to be an established 
form, ejaculated alike by all, and continued until fainting commenced, 
when it gradually ceased. 

In each instance they were turned until they fainted and their 
cries were ended. Their heads hanging forwards and down, and 
their tongues distended, and becoming entirely motionless and silent, 
they had, in each instance, the appearance of a corpse. (See Plate 
XL) In this view, which was sketched whilst the two young men 
were hanging before me, one is suspended by the muscles of the 
breast, and the other by the muscles of the shoulders, and two of the 
young candidates are seen reclining on the ground, and waiting for 
their turn. 

"When brought to this condition, without signs of animation, the 
lookers-on pronounced the word dead ! dead ! when the men who 
had turned them struck the cords with their poles, which was the 
signal for the men on top of the lodge to lower them to the ground, 


— the time of their suspension having been from fifteen to twenty 

The excessive pain produced by the turning, which was evinced 
by the increased cries as the rapidity of the turning increased, was 
no doubt caused by the additional weight of the buffalo skulls upon 
the splints, in consequence of their centrifugal direction, caused by 
the rapidity with which the bodies were turned, added to the sicken- 
ing distress of the rotary motion ; and what that double agony 
actually was, every adult Mandan knew, and probably no human 
being but a Mandan ever felt. 

After this ordeal (in which two or three bodies were generally 
hanging at the same time), and the bodies were lowered to the 
ground as has been described, a man advanced (as is seen in Plate 
X.) and withdrew the two splints by which they had been hung 
up, they having necessarily been passed under a portion of the 
trapezius or pectoral muscle, in order to support the weight of their 
bodies ; but leaving all the others remaining in the flesh, to be got 
rid of in the manner yet to be described. 

Each body lowered to the ground appeared like a loathsome and 
lifeless corpse. No one was allowed to offer them aid whilst they 
lay in this condition. They were here enjoying their inestimable 
privilege of voluntarily entrusting their lives to the keeping of the 
Great Spirit, and chose to remain there until the Great Spirit gave 
them strength to get up and walk away. 

In each instance, as soon as they got strength enough partly to 
rise, and move their bodies to another part of the lodge, where there 
sat a man with a hatchet in his hand and a dried buffalo skull before 
him, his body red, his hands and feet black, and wearing a mask, 
they held up the little finger of the left hand (as seen in Plate X.) 
towards the Great Spirit (offering it as a sacrifice, as they thanked 
him audibly, for having listened to their prayers and protected their 
lives in what they had just gone through), and laid it on the buffalo 


skull, where the man with the mask, struck it off at a blow with 
the hatchet, close to the hand. 

In several instances I saw them offer immediately after, and give, 
the /orefinger of the same hand, — leaving only the two middle fingers 
and the thumb to hold the bow, the only weapon used in that hand. 
Instances had been known, and several such were subsequently shown 
to me amongst the chiefs and warriors, where they had given also 
the little finger of the right hand, a much greater sacrifice; and 
several famous men of the tribe were also shown to me, who proved, 
by the corresponding scars on their breasts and limbs, which they 
exhibited to me, that they had been several times, at their own 
option, through these horrid ordeals. 

The young men seemed to take no care or notice of the wounds 
thus made, and neither bleeding nor inflammation to any extent 
ensued, though arteries were severed, — owing probably to the checked 
circulation caused by the reduced state to which their four days and 
nights of fasting and other abstinence had brought them. 

During the whole time of this cruel part of the ceremonies, the 
chiefs and other dignitaries of the tribe were looking on, to decide 
who amongst the young men were the hardiest and stoutest-hearted, 
who could hang the longest by his torn flesh without fainting, and 
who was soonest up after he had fainted, — that they might decide 
whom to appoint to lead a war party, or to place at the most im- 
portant posts, in time of war. 

As soon as six or eight had passed through the ordeal as above 
described, they were led out of the Medicine Lodge, with the weights 
still hanging to their flesh and dragging on the ground, to undergo 
another and (perhaps) still more painful mode of suffering. 

This part of the ceremony, which they called Eeh-he-ndh-ka 
Na-picJc (the last race) (see Plate XII.), took place in presence of 
the whole tribe, who were lookers-on. For this a circle was formed 
by the buffalo dancers (their masks thrown off) and others who had 


taken parts in the bnll dance, now wearing head-dresses of eagles' 
quills, and all connected by circular wreaths of willow-boughs held 
in their hands, who ran, with all possible speed and piercing yells, 
around the "Big Canoe;" and outside of that circle the bleeding 
young men thus led out, with all their buffalo skulls and other 
weights hanging to the splints, and dragging on the ground, were 
placed at equal distances, with two athletic young men assigned to 
each, one on each side, their bodies painted one half red and the other 
blue, and carrying a bunch of willow-boughs in one hand, (see one 
of them, Plate XIII.,) who took them, by leather straps fastened 
to the wrists, and ran with them as fast as they could,, around the 
" Big Canoe;" the buffalo skulls and other weights still dragging on 
the ground as they ran, amidst the deafening shouts of the bystanders 
and the runners in the inner circle, who raised their voices to the 
highest key, to drown the cries of the poor fellows thus suffering by 
the violence of their tortures. 

The ambition of the young aspirants in this part of the ceremony 
was to decide who could run the longest under these circumstances 
without fainting, and who could be soonest on his feet again after 
having been brought to that extremity. So much were they ex- 
hausted, however, that the greater portion of them fainted and 
settled down before they had run half the circle, and were then 
violently dragged, even (in some cases) with their faces in the dirt, 
until every weight attached to their flesh was left behind. 

This must be done to produce honourable scars, which could not 
be effected by withdrawing the splints endwise ; the flesh must be 
broken out, leaving a scar an inch or more in length : and in order to 
do this, there were several instances where the buffalo skulls adhered 
so long that they were jumped upon by the bystanders as they were 
being dragged at full speed, which forced the splints out of the 
wounds by breaking the flesh, and the buffalo skulls were left behind. 

The tortured youth, when thus freed from all weights, was left 

Fhoto-UtK Simonau B 


upon the ground, appearing like a mangled corpse, whilst his two 
torturers, having dropped their willow-boughs, were seen running 
through the crowd towards the prairies, as if to escape the punish- 
ment that would follow the commission of a heinous crime. 

In this pitiable condition each sufferer was left, his life again 
entrusted to the keeping of the Great Spirit, the sacredness of which 
privilege no one had a right to infringe upon by offering a helping 
hand. Each one in his turn lay in this condition until " the Great 
Spirit gave him strength to rise upon his feet," when he was seen, 
covered with marks of trickling blood, staggering through the crowd 
and entering his wigwam, where his wounds were probably dressed, 
and with food and sleep his strength was restored. 

The chiefs and other dignitaries of the tribe were all spectators 
here also, deciding who amongst the young men were the strongest, 
and could run the longest in the last race without fainting, and whom 
to appoint and promote accordingly. 

As soon as the six or eight thus treated were off from the 
ground, as many more were led out of the Medicine Lodge and passed 
through the same ordeal, or took some other more painful mode, at 
their own option, to rid themselves of the splints and weights 
attached to their limbs, until the whole number of candidates were 
disposed of; and on the occasion I am describing, to the whole of 
which I was a spectator, I should think that about fifty suffered in 
succession, and in the same manner. 

The number of wounds inflicted required to be the same on each, 
and the number of weights attached to them the same, but in both 
stages of the torture the candidates had their choice of being, in the 
first, suspended by the breasts or by the shoulders ; and in the "last 
race" of being dragged as has been described, or to wander about the 
prairies from day to day, and still without food, until suppuration of 
the wounds took place, and, by the decay of the flesh, the dragging 
weights were left behind. 


It was natural for me to inquire, as I did, whether any of these 
young men ever died in the extreme part of this ceremony, and they 
could tell me of but one instance within their recollection, in which 
case the young man was left for three days upon the ground (un- 
approached by his relatives or by physicians) before they were quite 
certain that the Great Spirit did not intend to help him away. They 
all seemed to speak of this, however, as an enviable fate rather than 
as a misfortune ; for " the Great Spirit had so willed it for some 
especial purpose, and no doubt for the young man's benefit." 

After the Medicine Lodge had thus been cleared of its tortured 
inmates, the master or conductor of ceremonies returned to it alone, 
and, gathering up the edged tools which I have said were deposited 
there, and to be sacrificed to the water on the last day of the cere- 
mony, he proceeded to the bank of the river, accompanied by all the 
tribe, in whose presence, and with much form and ceremony, he 
sacrificed them by throwing them into deep water from the rocks, 
from which they could never be recovered: and then announced 
that the Great Spirit must be thanked by all — and that the O-kee-pa 
(religious ceremony of the Mandans) was finished. 

The sequel to this strange affair, and which has been briefly 
alluded to, and is yet to be described, was the 

"Feast of the Buffaloes." 

At the defeat of O-he-hee-de (the Evil Spirit) it will be remembered 
that the young woman who returned from the prairie bearing the 
singular prize, and who ascended the front of the Medicine Lodge and 
put an end to the bull dance, claimed the privilege of a beautiful 
dress, in which she was to lead the dance in the feast of the buffaloes 
on that night. 

The O-kee-pa having been ended, and night having approached, 
several old men with rattles in their hands, which they were violently 


shaking, perambulated the village in various directions in the 
character of criers, announcing that "the whole government of the 
Mandans was then in the hands of one woman — she who had dis- 
armed the Evil Spirit, and to whom they were to look during the 
coming year for buffaloes to supply them with food, and keep them 
alive ; that all must repair to their wigwams and not show them- 
selves outside ; that the chiefs on that night were old women ; that 
they had nothing to say; that no one was allowed to be out of 
their wigwams excepting the favoured ones whom Rah-ta-co-puk-chee 
(the governing woman) had invited to be at the feast of the huff aloes 
around the ' Big Canoe,' and which was about to commence." 

This select party, which assembled and was seated on the ground 
in a circle, and facing the " Big Canoe," consisted (first) of the 
eight men who had danced the bull dance, with the paint washed off. 
To them strictly the feast was given, and therefore was the feast of 
the huff aloes (and not to be confounded with the huff ah feast, another 
annual ceremony, given in the fall of the year, somewhat of a similar 
character, but held for a different purpose). 

Besides the eight buffaloes were the old medicine man, conductor 
of the ceremonies, the four old men who had beaten on the tortoise- 
drums, and the one who had shaken the rattles, as musicians, and 
several of the aged chiefs of the tribe ; and, added to these, this new- 
made, but temporary governess of the tribe, had invited some eight 
or ten of the young married women of the village, like herself, to 
pay the extraordinary respect that was due, by the custom of their 
country, to the makers of buffaloes and to reverenced old age on this 
extraordinary occasion. 

The commencement of the ceremonies which fell under this 
woman's peculiar management was the feast of the buffaloes (as all the 
men invited to it were called buffaloes), which was handed around in 
wooden bowls by herself and attendants. After this was done, which 
lasted but a few minutes (appearing but a minor part of the affair), 


she charged a large pipe, which was passed around amongst the men, 
during which a lascivious dance was performed. by herself and female 

This dance finished, she advanced to her first selected paramour, 
and, giving some signals which seemed to be understood, passed her 
hand gently under his arm, and, raising him up, led him through the 
village and into the prairie, where, as all the villagers and their dogs 
were shut up in their wigwams, they were free from observation or 

From this excursion they returned separately, and the man took 
his seat again if he chose to be a candidate for further civilities, or 
returned to his wigwam. The other women were singing and going 
through the whirl of the dance in the meantime, and each one in- 
viting her chosen paramour, when she was disposed, in the same 

Those of the women who returned from these excursions joined 
again in the continuous dance, and extended as many and as varied 
invitations in this way as they desired ; and some of them, I learned, 
as well as of the men, had taken several of such promenades in the 
course of the evening, which may be accounted for by the relieving 
fact that though it would have been a most prejudicial want of 
gallantry on the part of the man to have refused to go, yet the 
trifling present of a string of beads or an awl saved him from any 
odium which might otherwise have been cast upon him. 

This extraordinary scene gradually closed by the men returning 
from the prairie to their homes, the last of them on the ground 
pacifying any unsatisfied feelings there might have been, by bestow- 

* In the foregoing account of the religious ceremonies, nothing has been de- 
scribed but what I saw enacted. Here, from necessity, I am trusting to the 
accounts of Mr. Kipp, of the Fur Company, and Mr. Tilton, whose letter will be 
seen in the Appendix, both of whom told me they had repeatedly been invited 
guests and sharers of these extraordinary hospitalities. 


ing liberal presents amongst those women, and agreeing to smoke 
the pipe of friendship with their husbands the next day, which they 
were bound to offer, and the others, by the custom of the country, 
were bound to accept. 

It may be met as matter of surprise, that a religious ceremony 
should be followed by a scene like the one just described, but before 
we entirely condemn these ignorant and superstitious people, let us 
inquire whether it is not, more or less, an inherent propensity in 
human nature (and even practised in some enlightened and Christian 
communities) to end extreme sorrow, extreme penitence, and even 
mourning for kindred the most loved, in debauch ? 

"What has thus far been related has been simple and easy, as it 
has been but the description of what I satv and what I heard; but 
what may be expected of me — rational and conclusive deductions from 
the above premises — I approach with timidity; rather wishing to 
submit the materials for the conclusions of others abler than myself 
to explain them, and for whose assistance I will still continue a 
few suggestions. 

That the Mandans should have had a tradition of a "Deluge" 
is by no means singular, when in every tribe I have visited I have 
found that they regard some high mountain in their vicinity, on 
which, they say, their ancestor or ancestors were saved, and also re- 
late other vague stories of the destruction of everything else living 
on the earth, by the waters. 

But that these people should hold an annual celebration of that 
event, and that the season of the year for that celebration was decided 
by such circumstances as the " willow-bough " and its "full-grown 
leaves," and the " medicine bird" and the Medicine Lodge opened by 
such a man as " Nu-mohk-miick-a-nah" who represented a white 
man, and some other circumstances, is surely a very remarkable 
thing, and, as I think, deserves some further attention. 

This ll Nu-mohk-muck-a-nah" (first or only man) was undoubtedly 

d 2 


some very aged medicine man of the tribe, who had gone out upon the 
prairies on the previous evening, and having dressed and painted 
himself for the occasion, came into the village at sunrise in the 
morning, endeavouring to keep up the semblance of reality ; for the 
traditions of the Mandans say, that " at an ancient period such a man 
did actually come from the West, that his skin was white, that he 
was very old, that he appeared in all respects as has been repre- 
sented ; and, as has also been stated, that he related the manner of 
the destruction of every human being on the earth's surface by 
the waters, excepting himself, who was saved in his u Big Canoe" by 
landing on a high mountain in the "West ; that the Mandans and all 
other nations were his descendants, and were bound to make annual 
sacrifices of edgefl tools to the water, for with such things his " Big 
Canoe" was built; that he instructed the Mandans how to make 
their Medicine Lodge, and taught them also the forms of these annual 
ceremonies, and told them also that as long as they made these 
annual sacrifices and performed these rites to the full letter, they 
would be the favoured people of the Great Spirit, and would always 
have enough to eat and drink, and that so soon as they departed in 
the least degree from these forms their race would begin to decrease 
and finally die out. 

These superstitious people have, no doubt, been living from time 
immemorial under the dread of such an injunction, and in the fear 
of departing from it ; and as they were living in total ignorance of 
its origin, other than this vague tradition, the world will probably 
remain in equal ignorance of much of its meaning, as they needs 
must be of all Indian traditions, which soon run into fable, thereby 
losing much of their system by which they might more easily have 
been correctly construed. 

It would seem from their tradition of the willow-bough and the 
dove, that these people must have had some proximity to some part of 
the civilized world, or that missionaries or others had been amongst 


them teaching the Christian religion and the Mosaic account of the 
Deluge, which is in this and some other respects very different from 
the theories which all the other American tribes have distinctly 
established of that event. 

There are other strong, and I think almost conclusive proofs, in 
support of this suggestion, which are to be drawn from the diversity 
of colour in their hair and complexions, as well as from their tra- 
ditions just related of the "first or only man," whose body was white, 
and who came from the West, telling them of the destruction of the 
human race by the water ; and in addition to the above I will offer 
another tradition, related to me by one of the chiefs of the tribe in 
the following way : — 

"At a very ancient time O-ke-Me-de (the Evil Spirit) came from 
the "West to the Mandan village in company with Nu-moM-muck-a- 
naJi (the first or only man), and they, being fatigued, sat down upon 
the ground near a woman who had but one eye and was hoeing corn. 
Her daughter, who was very beautiful, came up to her, and the Evil 
Spirit desired her to go and bring some water, but wished that 
before she started she would come to him and eat some buffalo 

" He then told her to take a piece out of his side, which she did, 
and ate it, and it proved to be buffalo's fat. She then went for the 
water, which she brought, and met them in the village where they 
had walked, and they both drank of it ; nothing more was done. 
The friends of the girl soon after endeavoured to disgrace her by 
telling her that she was with child, which she did not deny. She 
declared at the same time her innocence, and boldly defied any man 
in the Mandan nation to come forward and accuse her. No one 
could accuse her, and she therefore became great l medicine, 1 and 
she soon after went to the little Mandan village, where the child was 

" Great search was made for her before she was found, as it was 


expected that the child also would be great l medicine? and in some 
way be of great importance to the tribe. They were induced to this 
belief from the strange manner of its conception and birth, and were 
soon confirmed in their belief from the wonderful things which it did 
at an early age. 

"Amongst the strange things which it did on an occasion when 
the Mandans were in danger of starving, this child gave them four 
buffalo bulls, which filled the bellies of the whole nation, leaving as 
much meat as there was before they began to eat, and saying also 
that these four bulls would supply them for ever. 

" Nu-molik-muck-a-nali (the first or only man) was bent on the 
destruction of this child, and after making many fruitless searches 
for it, found it hidden in a dark place, and put it to death by throw- 
ing it into the river. 

"When O-ke-hee-de (the Evil Spirit) heard of the death of this 
child, he sought for Nu-mohk-mucTc-a-nah with intent to kill him. He 
traced him a long distance, and at length overtook him at the Heart 
Eiver, seventy miles below the Mandan village, with the 'big medi- 
cine pipe'' in his hands, the charm or mystery of which protected 
him from all his enemies. They soon agreed however to become 
good friends, and after smoking the medicine pipe they returned 
together to the Mandan village. 

" The Evil Spirit was now satisfied, and Nu-molilz-muck-a-nah 
told the Mandans never to go beyond the mouth of Heart Eiver to 
live, for it was the centre of the world, and to live beyond it would 
be destruction to them, and he named it Nat-com-pa-sa-ha (the 
heart or centre of the world)." 

Such was one of the very vague and imperfect traditions of those 
curious people, and I leave it to the world to judge of its similitude 
to the Scripture account of the Christian advent. 

Omitting in this place their numerous other traditions and super- 
stitions, I will barely refer to a few singular deductions I have made 


from the customs which have been described, and leave them for 
the consideration of gentlemen abler than myself to decide upon their 

The Mandans believed that the earth rests on the backs of four 
tortoises. They say that " each tortoise rained ten days, making 
forty days in all, and the waters covered the earth." 

Whenever a Mandan doctor {medicine man) lighted his pipe, he 
invariably presented the stem of it to the north, the south, the 
east, and the west, the four cardinal points, and then upwards to the 
Great Spirit, before smoking it himself. 

Their annual religious ceremony lasted four days ; four men were 
called for by Nu-molik-muck-a-nah, as has been stated, to cleanse and 
prepare the Medicine Lodge, "one from the north, one from the south, 
one from the east, and one from the west." Four was the number of 
tortoise-drums on the floor of the Medicine Lodge ; there were also 
four buffalo and four human skulls arranged on the floor of the 
Medicine Lodge. There were four couples of dancers in the bull- 
dance, and four intervening dancers in the same dance, as has been 
described ; the bull-dance was repeated four times on the first day, 
eight times on the second day, twelve times on the third day, and 
sixteen times on the fourth day, adding four dances on each of the 
four days, which added together make forty, the exact number of 
days that it rained upon the earth to produce the Deluge. 

There were four sacrifices of various-coloured cloths raised on 
poles over the Medicine Lodge. The visits of O-ke-hee-de were paid to 
four of the buffaloes in the bull-dance ; and in every instance of the 
young men who underwent the tortures explained, there were four 
splints run through the flesh on the legs, four on the arms, four on 
the body, and four buffalo-skulls, attached to each one's wounds. 
And, as has been related in the tradition above given, four was the 
number of bulls given by the medicine child to feed the Mandans 
when they were starving. 


Such were a portion, but not all, of the peculiar modes of the 
hospitable and friendly Mandans, who have ceased to exist, and left 
almost the only tangible evidence of their having existed, in my 
collection, which contains their portraits, their manufactures, and 
all their modes, and which I hope to preserve with success for the 
information of ages to come. 

The melancholy fate of these people was caused by the intro- 
duction of the smallpox, by that nefarious system of traffic which 
rapidly increases the wealth of civilized individual adventurers and 
monopolies who introduce it, but everywhere carries dissipation, 
poverty, disease and death to the poor Indians. 

In the fourth summer after I left the Mandans, the Missouri Fur 
Company's steamer from St. Louis, freighted with whiskey and mer- 
chandise, and with two of the partners of that concern on board, 
moored at the shore of the river in front of the Mandan village, 
where a traffic was carried on with those unsuspecting people whilst 
there were two of the vessel's hands on board sick with the small- 
pox ! 

By this act of imprudence, and in fact of inhuman cruelty, the 
disease was communicated to those unfortunate people; and such 
were its awful results, with the self-destruction which* ensued, that 
in the short space of three months there were but thirty-two of these 
people left in existence, with the exception of a few who had inter- 
married and were living with the Minatarrees, a friendly and neigh- 
bouring tribe. 

A few months after the disease had subsided, the Biccarrecs, a 
hostile tribe, living two hundred miles below, on the bank of the 
same river, moved up and took possession of the Mandan village, it 
being, a better built town than their own, and by the side of the Fur 
Company's factory, making slaves of the remaining Mandans, who 
were unable to resist. 

Whilst living in this condition in the Mandan village, and but a 


few months after they had taken possession, the Eiccarrees were 
attacked by a war-party of Sioux, and in the midst of a desperate 
battle around the pickets, in which the remaining Mandans were 
taking a part, they suddenly, at a signal, passed through the pickets 
and threw themselves under the horses' feet of the Sioux, and were 
slain at their own seeking, rather than to live, as they said, "dogs of 
the Eiccarrees." 

My authorities for these painful facts are letters which I hold 
from Mr. K. M'Kenzie and Mr. <T. Potts, written in the Mandan vil- 
lage after the disease had subsided. Both of these gentlemen were 
from Edinburgh, in Scotland, the former a partner in the Missouri 
Fur Company, and the latter a clerk in the same Company. (See 
these letters in Nos. 3 and 4 in the Appendix. 


In contemplating so many striking peculiarities in an extin- 
guished tribe, the mind reluctantly leaves so interesting a subject 
without raising the question as to the origin of the people ; and in 
this feeling, though not within the original intention of this work, it is 
difficult for me to leave the subject without advancing my belief, and 
furnishing some part of my reasons for it, that many of the modes of 
these people were purely Welsh, and that the personal appearance 
and customs of the Mandans had been affected by the proximity or 
admixture of some wandering colony of Welsh who had been thrown 
at an early period somewhere upon the American coast. 

I am here, perhaps, advancing a startling problem, which de- 
mands at my hands some striking proofs, which I will in a few 
words endeavour to produce. 

The annual religious ceremony which has been described certainly 
cannot be attributed to the Welsh, nor am I able to compare it to 


any civilized custom, and I leave it for the world to decide whether 
it bears a resemblance to any known customs of savage or civilized 
races in other parts of the world. 

It is very strange, as I have before said, that those people should 
have been instructed how to hold those ceremonies by a white man, 
and that they should be commenced and the Medicine Lodge opened 
by a white man, and that the "big canoe" should have been built 
with edged tools, if they be solely of native origin ; and it would be 
equally or more strange if the Jesuit missionaries, who, it would 
seem, were the only civilized teachers we can well suppose to have 
reached these people, had instructed them in modes like those, 
though it is easy to believe that their teaching might have been the 
cause of the last singular tradition mentioned, certainly bearing a 
visible but very imperfect parallel to the Christian Advent. 

Many of the customs and traditions of the western tribes convince 
us that those indefatigable preachers penetrated much further into 
the American wildernesses than history has followed them, and in this 
singular tribe we find the extraordinary custom which has been de- 
scribed, and others to which I shall take a few moments to allude, 
neither of which can with any propriety be attributed to the teaching 
of those venerable missionaries. 

On my arrival in their village, my first glance amongst the Man- 
dans forced me, from their peculiar features and complexions, the colour 
of their eyes and hair, the singular mode of building and furnishing 
their wigwams, etc., to believe that they were an amalgam of some 
foreign with an American aboriginal stock, and every day that I 
dwelt amongst them furnished me additional convictions of this fact, 
and of course called on my part for greater endeavours to account for 
these singularities. And the information I gathered amongst them 
confirmed me in the opinion I have advanced, — that many of their 
peculiarities and customs were Welsh, and therefore that there ex- 
isted amongst them the remains of some Welsh colony, however diffi- 
cult it might be to account for their having got there. 


The following, I believe, will be received as interesting and im- 
portant facts, and if they fail to establish my theory, they may never- 
theless revive the inquiry as to the direction and fate of the expe- 
dition which "sailed in ten ships, under the direction of Prince 
Madoc, from North Wales, in the early part of the fourteenth cen- 
tury," and which it has been pretty clearly shown, I believe, landed 
somewhere on the coast of Florida or about the mouth of the Missis- 
sippi, and, according to the history and poetry of their own country, 
" settled somewhere in the interior of America, where they are yet 
remaining, intermixed with some of the Indian tribes." 

I have not met in any other tribe anything in personal appear- 
ance or customs that would seem to account for the direction of this 
colony, but in several of the customs of this tribe which I have 
already described, as well as in others which I shall name, there 
appeared to exist striking proofs of the arrival and settlement of that 
colony in the western regions of America. 

The Mandan mode of constructing their wigwams, already de- 
scribed, was almost precisely that of the rude mode of building their 
cabins amongst the peasantry of the mountains of Wales, and, as I 
am told, in some districts they are building them at the present day. 

The pottery made by the Mandans, to the time of their destruc- 
tion, was strikingly similar to that manufactured in parts of Wales 
at the present time, and exactly similar to that found in the tumuli 
on the banks of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers ; strongly suggest- 
ing the probable fact that those people formerly inhabited the banks 
of those rivers, and by a great number of moves up the Missouri had 
arrived at the place where I found them. 

A peculiar and very beautiful sort of blue beads were also manu- 
factured by the Mandans, and of which they were certainly the only 
known manufacturers in America; and since publishing my large 
work on the North American Indians, in which I gave some account 
of this curious manufacture, I have received several letters from 


"Welsh gentlemen of science, one of whom enclosed me drawings 
from, and another the beads themselves, fonnd in tumuli, and also in 
the present progress of manufacture in "Wales, precisely the same in 
character, in shape, and in colour and composition, as those in my 
collection brought from the Mandans. 

The manufacture of these blue beads by the Mandans was 
guarded as a profound secret until the time of their destruction, 
although the Fur Company had made them repeated and liberal 
offers if they would divulge it, as the Mandan beads commanded a 
much higher price amongst the Mandans and the neighbouring tribes 
to whom they bartered them, than the beads introduced by the fur 

The canoes or boats of the Mandans, differing from those of all 
other tribes in America, were precisely the Welsh coracle, made of a 
bull's hide stretched over a frame of willow rods, bent and inter- 
locked, and pulled over the water by the paddle, in the same manner 
as the coracle is pulled, by reaching forward with the paddle instead 
of passing it by the side of the boat, which is nearly round, and the 
paddler seated or kneeling in its front. 

From the translation of their name, already mentioned, Nu-mah- 
kd-hee (pheasants), an important inference may be drawn in support 
of the probability of their having formerly lived much farther to the 
south, as that bird does not exist on the prairies of the Upper 
Missouri, and is not to be met with short of the heavy forests of 
Ohio and Indiana, one thousand eight hundred miles south of the 
last residence of the Mandans. 

And in their familiar name of Mandan, which is not an Indian 
word, there are equally singular and important features. In the 
first place, that they knew nothing of the name or how they got it ; 
and next, that the word Mandan in the Welsh language (it being 
purely a Welsh word) means red dye, of which further mention will 
be made. 



In the brief vocabulary of Mandan words which I published in 
the Appendix to my large work on the North American Indians, it 
has been discovered by several "Welsh scholars that there exist the 
following most striking resemblances, which it would be difficult to 
account for in any other way than that which I am now attempting. 
























hwna {masculine) 
hona {feminine) 

The Great 







From the above evidences, and others which might be produced, 
I fully believe, what perhaps will for ever remain impossible (posi- 
tively) to prove, that the ten ships commanded by the brother of 
Prince Madoc, or some portion of them, entered the mouth of the 
Mississippi, and advanced up that noble river to the mouth of the 
Ohio, which could easily have been navigated by vessels of that date, 
and, advancing up that river, which they would naturally have 
chosen, as the broadest and most gentle stream, as far as their vessels 
could go, the adventurers planted themselves as agriculturists on its 
rich and fertile banks, where they lived and nourished and increased 
in numbers, until they were attacked, and at last besieged, by the 
numerous hordes of savages who were jealous of their growing con- 
dition ; and as a protection against the Indian assaults built those 
civilized fortifications, the remains of which are so numerous on the 
banks of the Ohio and Muskingum Eivers. 

In these defences, I believe, they were at length all destroyed 


by the overpowering numbers of the savage hordes, excepting those 
few families who had intermarried with the Indians, and whose off- 
springs, being half-castes, were in such a manner allied to them that 
their lives were spared. 

Those, as is generally the case with the half-castes, I believe had 
formed a separate village in the vicinity of the whites, supporting 
themselves by their embroidery with porcupine quills, to which they 
gave the beautiful dyes for which the Mandans have been peculiarly 
famous, and were called by their "Welsh neighbours, and in the 
Welsh language, the Mandans (or red dyers). 

These half-castes, having formed themselves into a separate 
community, probably took up their residence, after the destruction 
of the whites, on the banks of the Missouri, on which, for the want 
of a permanent location and right to the soil, being on the lands and 
the hunting-grounds of their more powerful enemies, they were 
obliged repeatedly to move, as the numerous marks of their ancient 
residences show ; and continuing their moves up the river, in time 
migrated to the place where I saw them, and where they terminated 
their existence. 

Thus much of and for the character and modes of a peculiar 

people, who were proverbially intelligent, hospitable, and kind ; 

who, with their language, have suddenly ceased to exist; whose 

character, history, modes, and personal appearance, almost solely 

existing in my collections, I have considered essentially interesting 

and important to Ethnology, and some of the most remarkable of 

which (as I have said) I am here, from a sense of duty, emphatically 

recording for the information of those who are to study Man and his 

modes after I shall be gone. 

Geo. Catlin. 

est. perpet. 




" We hereby certify that we witnessed, in company with Mr. Catlin, in the 
Mandan village, the ceremony represented in the four paintings to which this 
certificate refers, and that he has therein represented those scenes as we saw 
them transacted, without any addition or exaggeration. 

" J. Kipp, Agent of the American Fur Company. 
"J. Crawford, Clerk. 
"Abraham Bogard. 
" Mandan Village, 28th July, 1832." 

Witnessing scenes so extraordinary as those described in the foregoing 
pages, and so remote from civilization, I deemed it prudent to obtain the 
above certificates, which were given in the Mandan village, and inseparably 
attached to the backs of my four original oil-paintings of those four days' cere- 
monies, made in the Mandan village, and submitted to the examination and 
approval of the chiefs and the whole tribe, and now in my possession, entirely 

No. II. 

"Fort Gibson, Arkansaw, Jnne 3rd, 1836. 

" To George Catlin, Esq. 
" Dear Sir, 

I have seen your account of the religious ceremonies of the Mandans, 
and no man will give you so much credit for it as myself. I conducted the 


American Fur Company's business with the Mandans for eight years before 
Mr. Kipp, and was the first white man who ever learned to speak the Mandan 

" Mr. Kipp, Mr. Crawford, and Bogard, who have given you their certifi- 
cates, are old acquaintances of mine, and I am glad you had them with you. 
All those parts of the ceremonies which you describe as taking place outside of 
the Medicine Lodge, — the bull dance, the dragging scene, etc., I witnessed 
annually for eight years just as you have represented them, and I was every 
year an invited guest to the "feast of the buffaloes," but I was always unable 
to get admission into the Medicine Lodge to see that part of the tortures that 
took place inside. 

" TlLTON, 
" Sutler to the First Regiment of Mounted Dragoons." 


As to the unlucky fate of the Mandans, the following letter, enclosed to 
me by my esteemed friend Thomas Potts, Esq., of Edinburgh, and now in my 
possession, written by his brother, who was then a clerk in the Fur Company's 
employment, is worthy of being read and distinctly understood, and will be 
received as undeniable authority, as he could have no motive for misrepresen- 

"Mandan Village, Upper Missouri, October 1, 1837. 

" To Thomas Potts, Esq., Edinburgh, Scotland. 

" Dear Brother, 

" The friendly and hospitable tribe of Mandans are nearly all 

destroyed by the smallpox. There are but thirty-two families remaining, and 
those chiefly women and children ; these the Riccarrees, who have moved up 
and taken possession, have turned out of the village, after plundering them of 
everything they had on earth, and they will all be destroyed by their enemies 
the Sioux, as they have no weapons to defend themselves with. 

"About sixty young warriors, who had recovered from the smallpox, on 
seeing how they were disfigured, put an end to their existence by stabbing or 
drowning themselves. Nothing now but the name of these people remains. 


" The disease was brought up by the Fur Company's steamboat in the 
spring : two men on board were sick with the disease when the boat arrived 
at the Mandan village, and the Mandans who went on board caught the infec- 
tion, hence the almost total destruction of the tribe. 

"The Indians are much exasperated against the whites; indeed, if they 
were not very forbearing, they would destroy every white man in the country, 
as they have been the cause of all the distress and disease, which have 
gone also to all the neighbouring tribes, and may perhaps depopulate the whole 
country. . . . 

" Your affectionate Brother, 

"Andrew Potts." 


In the summer following the calamity of the Mandans, Mr. Kennith 
M'Kenzie, at that time chief factor of the Fur Company, and in charge of 
Fort Union, at the mouth of the Yellow Stone River, came down to St. Louis 
and New York, where I had an interview with him; and as he was taking 
leave, to return to the Yellow Stone, passing through the Mandan village, I 
placed in his hands the sum of fifty dollars, and begged him to procure and 
send to me any relics of the Mandans that he might think interesting to be 
preserved in my Indian Collection. 

In the course of the ensuing summer I received the following letter, en- 
closed in a box containing some articles procured for me, as described within 
it. Mr. M'Kenzie, who was from the city of Edinburgh, had treated me with 
honour and much kindness when I was visiting the Mandans and other tribes 
on the Upper Missouri a few years previous, and I never believed that he had 
any motive for misrepresentation in the following letter : — 

"Fort Mandan, Mandan Village, Upper Missouri, 
"June, 1839. 

"To George Catlin, Esq., City of New York. 
" Dear Sir, 

" I have sent this day by our boat a box containing a few 

articles of Mandan manufacture, such as I thought would be of interest to 




vou for your Collection ; but as the Riccarrees have taken possession of the 
Mandan village they have appropriated nearly everything, and it is impossible 
therefore to obtain what I otherwise would have procured for you. I have 
sent, you, however, one thing which you will peculiarly value,— the famous 
war-knife of your old friend Mah-to-toh-pa, the war chief. This knife and its 
history you are familiar with. 

" I have also sent a very beautiful woman's robe, with a figure of the sun 
painted on it, a grizzly bear's-claw necklace, and several other articles, the best 

I could obtain On reaching here I learn that amongst the Assiniboins 

and Crees about 7000, and amongst the Blackfeet 15,000, have fallen victims 
to the disease, which spread to those tribes. 

" Of the Mandans between forty and fifty were all that were left when the 
disease subsided. The Riccarrees soon after moved up and took possession of 
their village, making slaves of the remaining Mandans, and are living in it at 
the present time. 

"A few months after the Riccarrees took possession they were attacked by 
a war-party of Sioux, and in the middle of the battle the Mandans, men, 
women, and children, whilst fighting for the Riccarrees, at a concerted signal 
ran through the pickets and threw themselves under the horses' feet of the 
Sioux, and, still fighting, begged the Sioux to kill them ' that they might not 
live to be the dogs of the Riccarrees/ The last of the tribe were here slain. 

" Yours truly, 

"Kennith M'Kenzie." 

I might not have encumbered my work with the above certificates and 
extracts of letters in my possession, were it not that the very Company who 
have been the cause of the destruction of these people, to punish me for 
having condemned their system of rum and whisky selling, and to veil 
their iniquities, have endeavoured to throw discredit upon my descriptions 
of the religious ceremonies of the Mandans, and to induce the world to 
believe, contrary to my representations, that a large proportion of the Man- 
dans still exist, and are rapidly increasing under the nourishing auspices of the 
Fur Company. 

There is no doubt whatever that a few straggling Mandans who fled to the 
Minatarrees, or in other directions, are still existing, nor any doubt but that 
the Riccarrees, since the destruction of the Mandans, have occupied to this 
day the Mandan village, under the range of the guns of the Fur Company's 
fort, and arc exhibited to the passers-by and represented to the reading world 


as surviving Mandans. The policy of this is easily understood, and the 
reader who has paid attention to the foregoing certificates and extracts of 
letters, added to my own testimony as an eye-witness, will have no difficulty 
in drawing correct conclusions as to the peculiar customs and the cruel fate 
of the Mandan Indians. 

Every reader of this work will have a knowledge of, and a respect for the 
names of Cass and Webster, who were familiar with my works and also with 
Indian history and Indian character. 

Letter from General Cass, American Ambassador to France, and since, 
Secretary of State of the United States of America. 

" Legation des Etats-Unis a Paris. 
" Dear Sir, 

" No man can appreciate better than myself the admirable fidelity of 
your Indian Collection and Indian book, which I have lately examined. They 
are equally spirited and accurate ; they are true to nature. Things that are, 
are not sacrificed, as they too often are by the painter, to things as (in his 
judgment) they should be. 

" During eighteen years of my life I was superintendant of Indian affairs in 
the North-west Territory of the United States, and during more than five I was 
Secretary of War, to which department belongs the general control of Indian 
concerns. I know the Indians thoroughly. I have spent many a month in 
their camps, council-houses, villages, and hunting-grounds; I have fought with 
them and against them ; and I have negotiated seventeen treaties of peace or 
of cession with them. I mention these circumstances to show you that I 
have a good right to speak confidently upon the subject of your drawings. 
Among them I recognize many of my old acquaintances, and everywhere I am 
struck with the vivid representations of them and their customs, of their 
peculiar features, and of their costumes. Unfortunately, they are receding 
before the advancing tide of our population, and are probably destined at no 
distant day wholly to disappear; but your Collection will preserve them, as far 
as human art can do, and will form the most perfect monument of an extin- 
guished race that the world has ever seen." 
"To Geokge C'atlix. "Lewis Cass." 


Extract from the Speech of the Hon. Daniel Webster, on a Motion in 
the Senate of the United States, for the purchase of Catlin's Indian 
Collection in 1849. 
"Mr. President, — The question is, whether it does not become us, as a 
useful thing, to possess in the United States this collection of paintings, etc., 
made amongst the Indian tribes ? — whether it is not a case for the exercise of 
large liberality, I will not say bounty, but policy ? These tribes, Sir, that have 
preceded us, to whose lands we have succeeded, and who have no written me- 
morials of their laws, their habits, and their manners, are all passing away to 
the land of forgetfulness. Their likeness, manners, and customs, are por- 
trayed with more accuracy and truth in this Collection by Catlin than in all 
the other drawings and representations on the face of the earth. Somebody in 
this country ought to possess this Collection, — that is my opinion ; and I do 
not know who there is, or where there is to be found, any society or individual, 
who or which can with so much propriety possess himself or itself of it as the 
Government of the United States. For my part, then, I do think that the 
preservation of Catlin's Indian Collection in this country is an important public 
act. I think it properly belongs to those accumulations of historical matters 
respecting our predecessors on this continent which it is very proper for the 
Government of the United States to maintain. As I have said, this race is 
going into forgetfulness ; they track the continuation of mankind in the pre- 
sent age, and call recollection back to them. And here they are better ex- 
hibited, in my judgment, better set forth and presented to the mind, and the 
taste and the curiosity of mankind, than in all other collections in the world. I 
go for this as an American subject, as a thing belonging to us, to our history, to 
the history of a race whose lands we till, and over whose obscure graves and 
bones we tread every day. I look upon it as a thing more appropriate for us 
than the ascertaining of the South Pole, or anything that can be discovered in 
the Dead Sea or the river Jordan. These are the grounds, Sir, upon which I 
propose to proceed, and I shall vote for the appropriation with great pleasure." 


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Deacidified using the Bookkeeper process 
Neutralizing agent: Magnesium Oxide 
Treatment Date: Dec. 2002 


1 1 1 Thomson Parte Drive 
Cranberry Township. PA 16066 









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